Flagg: Cross your fingersWritten by Steven Flagg | | email@example.com
Developing and implementing optimal solutions to difficult and vexing problems should never rely on dumb luck. Chance can be involved and fortuitous circumstances are hoped for, but they are no replacement for a process that embodies effective planning, defined action steps, accountability and hard work.
A process is a systematic series of actions that are directed at achieving a defined objective. Such processes are never more important than in the arena of public decision-making, where each action can
impact so many and public funding is deployed.
Take for example the recent decision of the Toledo Public Schools (TPS) Board of Education to conduct a performance audit. From an outside and uninformed perspective, it would appear that the board is taking a proactive step to improve its operations and hopefully improve student outcomes.
But when you get the microscope out and peer closely at what transpired, you realize that we had better cross our fingers and hope that luck is on the side of students, parents and taxpayers.
Instead of acting upon concerns in 2010 when several community organizations called for a performance audit after an income tax levy failure, the board ignored the calls and put a property tax levy on the November ballot. It also failed rather handily. In the fall of 2011, the board implemented a Transformation Plan and without evidence that this plan was succeeding asked voters to trust it and vote for a somewhat reduced property tax levy in 2012. Even with a large voter turnout, especially in areas traditionally sympathetic to TPS, the board miscalculated and another levy was defeated despite the lack of opposition.
The board was now zero for three on new levies and in panic mode. It was left without new funds to restore employee givebacks and increase salaries — 85 percent of all funds are spent on employee salaries.
Worse yet, TPS union leadership claimed the board and administration sandbagged the levy.
So how could the board salvage the situation and find a means to convince an unsympathetic and skeptical community to pass a levy in 2013?
With critics calling for a performance audit, the board (without admitting it was genuflecting) quickly began looking at an audit as itssalvation. And because it had scoffed at and then ignored the calls for the audit and therefore had no Plan B should a levy fail, it is scrambling to find the magic bullet that will secure levy passage.
The board never conducted a comprehensive survey of firms capable of conducting a performance audit; it considered just the Ohio State Auditor and the Council of Great City Schools. Further, a request for proposal was never prepared and distributed to prospective organizations to ascertain capabilities and ensure that taxpayer dollars were used most effectively.
The firm selected, Evergreen Solutions, self-identified itself approximately four days before the board’s finance committee met to make a recommendation. The company contacted the treasurer and left a message. What if the treasurer had been out of town or failed to return the call due to a hectic schedule? Blind luck intervened and possibly a better option identified, but it’s still too early to know
if Evergreen’s selection was the right decision.
A reasonable process including steps necessary to establish public confidence was bypassed because the board again failed to plan ahead and unwisely expedited the effort. This board hopes it will be enough to undergo the audit and publicly support implementing the findings.
Unfortunately, the board doesn’t realize that such reasoning requires the public to believe it will keep
its word and actually implement the findings.
During the past 15 years there have been a number of other plans, studies and audits conducted without TPS’ implementation of the findings, leaving us to believe these efforts were mostly for public relations and not reform. Like the boy who cried wolf, you can only use a stratagem so many times before it is considered disingenuous and disregarded.
When will the Toledo Public Schools Board of Education realize that transparency in decision-making and operations is the currency of public trust? Planning ahead, developing operational alternatives, establishing defined processes and accountability and truthful, timely communication to the community are desperately needed but nowhere in sight.
All we can do now is cross our fingers and trust that luck bails the board out and this community along with it.
Email Steven Flagg at firstname.lastname@example.org.